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The Art of Noticing by Rob Walker. Book review

May 12, 2019

The art of noticing

We often seek out new experiences and will travel great distances, striving to make great efforts to find that spark for our creativity. Yet the exercises in The Art of Noticing will make it possible for you to discover that the most mundane environment can be your creative muse.

Because of this, as well as the lively and interesting way in which it’s written, The Art of Noticing is a book that should be on the compulsory list for any creative course be it writing, art, film making and so on. The book not only hones your powers of observation, but also stimulates your imagination to make something of your world through its ingenious observational exercises. The ordinary is made extraordinary (even considering locations which might generate stress in a commuter, turning them instead into connoisseurs of the rat race).

It’s about taking in the details we cruise through in everyday life, but are normally too busy to take in (or even something we’ve trained ourselves to switch off from in the name of mental self-preservation), and see them anew, until the world becomes an unmissable adventure. Rob Walker has considered all the senses of sight, sound, smell, touch, taste. Even noting changes in temperature is fair game.

The Art of Noticing is certainly a “go-to” book for any writer. Consider a writer you admire and think about how they have gripped you as a reader. It is very likely they have engaged all your senses and as a result the story erupts into life, even if the landscape of that particular scene might have appeared to have nothing remarkable to use in the way of material. This is because that author has mastered the art of noticing.

This book is like looking at a mind map with initially only one concept which continually expands until the paper is so big it takes up a courtyard, because that one piece of detail has triggered a whole train of creative thought.

I am not a gifted artist, but along with my portable keyboard comes my sketchbook, or I feel as if I am going out undressed. Compared to a photograph of where I have been, if I do a sketch and look at it later that place always comes back to me with much more vibrancy than the quick flatness of a photograph. What I will do now after reading this book is pay just that much more attention to the place by tuning in all my senses while I’m drawing, so that the experience becomes much more vivid. After using this book I have been surprised just how much more I can squeeze out of my surroundings.

The exercises are graded from easy (represented by one eye icon) to hard, requiring much more application (represented by many eyes).

I received a review copy as an e-book, but I’ve bought the hardcopy, because this is the kind of reference book to keep close and never tire of. Given the number of exercises, I’m going to be kept busy for a long time working my way through them all and mastering them. Already The Art of Noticing has not only sharpened my skills of observation but also provided me with a whole new palate of tools to work with.

So go down to your nearest bookshop and get this book, then embark on a lifetime of adventure in somewhere you thought you knew.

The Art of Noticing was courtesy of Ebury Press via NetGalley.


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